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Bill Clinton’s #DNC Speech: Propagates “Good Muslim vs. Bad Muslim” Dichotomy

Former President Bill Clinton speaks on the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016. Hillary Clinton officially became the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer on Tuesday in a roll-call vote of delegates on the floor of the convention. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times) XNYT328

Former President Bill Clinton speaks on the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

“If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you.” -Bill Clinton, DNC 2016

It’s not surprising that in his DNC speech, Bill Clinton, adopted and forwarded the simplistic “Good Muslim” vs. “Bad Muslim” dichotomy and was therefore widely criticized. Hillary supporters, those who have cared enough to respond, have argued that this is an over reaction because Bill had “good intentions.”

This charitable interpretation is expected as many see the current presidential race as an existential fight for the future of America and any criticism of Hillary or her husband, especially in the context of the campaign will be viewed as an attack. For my part I view Bill Clinton as a wily politician, who is aware in this instance of what he was saying and doing. He doesn’t see anything wrong or untoward in the mentality that lead him to utter the words he did. Ironically, it was a statement that could also easily have come out of the mouth of Donald Trump. So instead of differentiating himself from Trump and being inclusive of Muslim Americans, he ended up reinforcing prejudice and stereotypes.

By Peter Beinart, The Atlantic

[T]he worst moment of the speech came near its end, when Clinton began to riff about the different kinds of people who should join Hillary’s effort. “If you love this country, you’re working hard, you’re paying taxes, you’re obeying the law and you’d like to become a citizen, you should choose immigration reform over someone that wants to send you back,” he said. Fair enough. Under any conceivable immigration overhaul, only those undocumented immigrants who have obeyed the law once in the United States—which includes paying taxes—will qualify for citizenship. Two sentences later, Clinton said that, “If you’re a young African American disillusioned and afraid … help us build a future where no one’s afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future.” No problem there. Of course African Americans should be safe from abusive police, and of course, police should be safe from the murderers who threaten them.

But in between, Clinton said something dreadful: “If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you.” The problem is in the assumption. American Muslims should be viewed exactly the same way other Americans are. If they commit crimes, then they should be prosecuted, just like other Americans. But they should not have to prove that they “love America and freedom” and “hate terror” to “stay here.” Their value as Americans is inherent, not instrumental. Their role as Americans is not to “help us win” the “war on terror.”

Whether Clinton meant to or not, he lapsed into Trumpism: the implication that Muslims are a class apart, deserving of special scrutiny and surveillance, guilty of terrorist sympathies until proven innocent. I think I understand where the formulation came from. In the 1990s, one of Clinton’s key New Democratic innovations was his insistence that with rights, come responsibilities: To receive government assistance, welfare recipients must work. If people commit crimes, the government will punish them harshly.

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  • 786 I agree with all three of you.
    To mention one minor point: it just so happens that the worst mass shooting on American soil in this century was perpetrated by a Kharijite scum. Domestic terror attacks committed by those claiming to be “Muslims” may be a small percentage of the total, but that small percentage has also been the deadliest. Until last year dogs killed more Americans every year than all domestic terror attacks since 9/11 combined; it was scum claiming to be Muslims, and ONLY scum claiming to be Muslims, who are responsible for changing that.
    Naturally this causes my non-Muslim countrymen some degree of concern, and just as naturally that concern is going to be one of the things addressed in some fashion by those running for office and their supporters.
    There are enough legitimate threats for us to worry about without getting hacked off over a turn of phrase that was clearly well-intentioned, but ill-conceived.

  • golden izanagi
  • Yausari

    My reaction: Ugh… I’ll take it.
    Especially when Trump is worse when he said that we knew about “this guy” (the gay club shooter) and we didn’t turn him in. He thinks that the Muslim community is some kind of a beehive or something.

  • (((Reynardine)))

    Though the road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, it’s not nearly as fast as the ten-lane Interstate Trump has paved with malice aforethought.

  • (((Reynardine)))

    Let us consider the alternative.

    To the sTRUMPeters, there are no good Muslims. They must all be kept out… or sent out. This is supposed to return us to “the good old days” of half a century ago (as they imagine them to have been).

    They’d better think hard. Do they really want to do that? If, fifty years ago, a male Presidential candidate with a backwards bleach-blond bubble flip and a thick coat of orange Contempera makeup had publicly called on the Kremlin to spy on his opponent… you couldn’t have gotten him on Laugh-in.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    I agree that Clinton was trying to reach out to Muslims. But, even if what he said was appropriate (and I’ll leave that aside), if it got a generally negative reaction from Muslims, it certainly was not effective.

  • sasboy

    No I do not think there was anything inappropriate at all about what Mr Clinton said at all.

    He extended the olive branch to law abiding Muslims, which is a reasonable thing to do.

  • Heinz Catsup
  • Just_Stopping_By

    I actually think two of the most important sentences in Beinart’s article come right after the cut: “The problem with transferring that formulation to Muslims today is that
    Muslims aren’t asking for benefits from the welfare state. They’re simply asking not to be discriminated against.”

    Also, an article on an amazing speech at the DNC last night:

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